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Migration process begins for Gujarat riot victims

Getting fed up with their pathetic existence, riot victims huddled in various relief camps spanning Gujarat have started a migratory process from the state. There is no end to their plight, it seems so, for a long time to come. Violence continues to rock different parts of the state, and even those who have taken shelter in relief camps have been attacked and are being forced to leave them. The present Narender Modi administration has turned a blind eye totally, and there have been reports of the mobs being led by state ministers in attacking the riot victims spread in different camps.

The helpless victims of the communal carnage in Gujarat have been cornered and increasingly find themselves at the edge. With each passing day their plight continues to worsen even more. Having been driven from their homes by marauding mobs who raped and killed their kith and kin, looted and burnt their houses, the riot victims are not being left to carry on a peaceful existence albeit a temporary one, in the relief camps and have been attacked on several occasions. Not only this, as if to add more insult to their injury, the administration in a recent move has closed down four riot relief camps in Dahod, the district adjoining Godhra in central Gujarat on Friday, 26 April. Within two weeks of the violence Gujarat chief minister Narender Modi had announced that the camps would be wound up by 31 May. Notably, this move of the BJP government is the first initiative to wind up the remaining riot relief camps across the state, where presently over one lakh refugees are housed.

Reports from acknowledged sources said that at least seven camps were operational in Dahod district. Three were in Dahod town -- Ghanchi Panch relief camp, Majlis-e-Hussaini relief camp, and Sabjefaros relief camp, while the others were in Sukhsar, Fatehpura, and Jalod talukas. Significantly, in a major blow the state governmentís abrupt decision to close down four camps in Dahod has affected over 2,000 victims who had sought refuge in these camps. This has left the victims more bitter, and generated a feeling of unrest in the Muslims of the area.

"The situation is just not conducive for these refugees to return home. They fear they will get killed by their neighbours," said Bina Shrinivasan, an activist and relief worker in Ahmedabad, who got the message from a camp in Dahod. M. Haji, coordinator of the relief camps in Dahod, was more forthcoming and charged the government with creating a false sense of security amongst the people by closing down these camps. Exposing the farcical behaviour of the government, Haji said, "By forcing the closure of the camps, government wants to show that the peace has returned and people have returned home. But this is a big farce." "These people have lost their homes and livelihood and were dependent on the State to keep hunger at bay. Now, they will also have to worry about arranging for food," Haji complains bitterly.

The story from the refugee camps in Sabarkantha district is no different. Muslims in Sabarkantha district who became riot victims also moved to refugee camps. It was, however, only after two months that realisation dawned upon them that they would be allowed safe passage to their homes only on the condition that they withdraw the FIRs against individuals who led the mobs during the violence and instead file fresh complaints blaming the violence on nondescript mobs. Nearly 24,000 terror-stricken Muslims who fled from 207 villages in Sabarkantha district are now refusing to return to their original dwellings because of life-threatening attacks and arson to their property. According to Khadim Lalpuri, president of the coordination committee of all Sabarkantha relief camps, the survey that was undertaken by coordination committee confirmed that 101 persons died in communal violence in Sabarkantha against the official figure of 41. It also lists 62 persons as missing, most of them belonging to Kidiyad village of Malpur taluka. However, a district-level meeting of senior officials held recently worked out an action plan to disband all relief camps within a month, but those living in the camps are too terrified to return to their homes.

Available reports indicate that there are still 160 camps functioning across the state. 47 camps are spread in Ahmedabad itself. While four of the camps at Dahod have been closed down, Ahmedabad is witnessing a spurt in the number of camps. The number of refugees at two of the largest refugee camps in Ahmedabad, the Shah Alam camp and Dariyakhan Ghummat camp has considerably increased. Instead of a decrease in their number a fresh camp has been added in the last few days because of recent attacks in Khanpur, Mirzapur and Shahpur which has left hundreds of people homeless. Even in some of the districts where villagers have attempted to return, they have been met with threats, forcing them to return to the camps.

The relief camps are now being constantly attacked by mobs. The Dariyakhan Ghummat camp was repeatedly attacked by mobs in the last week of April who demanded its removal from the area. Bharat Barot, the MLA from the area and state minister for civil supplies, even wrote to Gujarat Home Minister asking for the shifting of the camp since the Hindus in the area felt threatened. But when the ministerís plea didnít work, mobs attacked the camps hoping to frighten them into moving. The minister is reported to have led the attacks on the refugee camp.

Process of migration of riot victims has already started from Gujarat to different states of the country. The bordering state of Rajasthan has become a prime destination for the haunted refugees. Besides, the state of Andhra Pradesh has also become one of the favoured destination.

Refugees are continuously pouring into Rajasthan for shelter. According to Government sources, victims began fleeing into the state from the first week of March itself. Most of the groups who fled Gujarat, first of all sent their children and women. The first group of 224 Muslims comprising 110 children and 69 women had come to Jalore district from Banaskantha district of Gujarat. Another group of riot victims fled Gujarat from Sui area and took refuge at Raniwara town of Jalore district, consisting of five women, 19 children and five men. The other border district of Sirohi has also received a large number of riot victims. Over 700 victims have taken shelter in the district. Some victims have been sent to the state of Uttar Pradesh also. In Jaipur, a new lot of migrants keeps reaching every day. The total number of refugees in the district has now swelled to almost 1000.

Most of the people who had earlier migrated from Narayanpet in Mehbubnagar district in Andhra Pradesh to Ahmedabad have also fallen victim to the riots. At least 100 families of Narayanpet have now returned home from Ahmedabad with shocking tales of brutalities. Some 15 people belonging to Narayanpet were among those killed in Ahmedabad. Many other Gujarati families, who have some relatives or acquaintances in Hyderabad have also started arriving. Ghiyasuddin Babu Khan, president of a voluntary organisation in Hyderabad, said that his organisation has prepared a plan for rehabilitation of 65,000 of the nearly three lakh displaced families. Initially 400 houses will be built at the cost of Rs. 2 crores (20 million), he said.

Meanwhile, the existing inhuman conditions in which refugees continue to live cuts a really sorry figure. Packed like sardines, sitting up all night as there isnít enough space to lie down, lack of water to drink or for ablutions, lack of food, clothes, medicines -- all make Gujarat a living hell.

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